Truth in Education

Indiana State Senator Dennis Kruse is the man behind several past attempts to pass creationist legislation in Indiana.

Having been unsuccessful, he is trying something else, which ironically highlights the challenges for science educators.

He says of his newly proposed “Truth in Education” legislation, “If you’re teaching something, then a student could question that and say, you know, ‘How do you know that’s true?’ And so the teacher would have to come up with different sources, ‘This is why I think this is true.’”

That is what any good educator in any field already does, except that they won’t merely offer “different sources” of just any quality, but actual scientific research.

Kruse clearly holds the misguided view that evolution lacks such evidence, despite the wealth of scientific research supporting it, and conversely, that young-earth creationism has such evidence, despite not having any actual scientific evidence or research supporting it.

This highlights the challenge educators in many fields face, and that humanity faces, is that there are many viewpoints which are not supported by evidence or which are even at odds with evidence, but for which people have nonetheless made a case which manages to deceive some people into thinking that the situation is exactly the opposite of what it really is.

And so Sen. Kruse illustrates the problem. Students can ask questions, and teachers and parents and a variety of other individuals can offer answers. Unless there is actual rigorous quality control regarding the answers given, then charlatans will quickly offer “sources” which pretend to be evidence, but is merely a pack of lies.

Until one has studied a subject sufficiently to be able to genuinely grasp the methods, evidence, and arguments, then one is not going to be poised to evaluate claims made concerning that field. And so it is crucial that students be educated first about what science is, how it works, what the evidence is, and how conclusions are drawn. If they have that solid grounding, they won’t be duped by false claims the way Sen. Kruse apparently has – unless, of course, the parents themselves have missed out on a good science education, and are seeking to inoculate their children against being educated.

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  • robert m geraci

    nicely put, james.

  • arcseconds

    I think this is a great contradiction of western society.

    One great historical trend of the last few centuries has been individualism, and in particular the freedom of the individual to make up their own minds about what is right and what is true. We more or less decided that there were to be no authorities that one was compelled to follow back in the Enlightenment (if not earlier, in the Reformation or even in the Renaissance). It’s taken a few centuries to work through that. In a way, science and technology was the last authority to go (although economics, weirdly enough, still looks like it’s hanging in there). Back in the 50s, it was all serious men in white coats telling you what the future was going to be like and how to stop worrying and learn to love the bomb. You don’t see this any more.

    We told people to ‘use your reason!’, ‘don’t believe the guys in fancy dress’, but now we’re not so happy with the results. Turns out that two people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions. Now we’re complaining that people end up believing things we don’t like.

    However, the other big trend has been to increasing intellectual sophistication and specialisation. Back in the Enlightenment, it was possible for an educated man with time on his hands to keep abreast of pretty much all areas of intellectual endeavour. So it was possible to believe that, at least in principle, one wouldn’t have to take very much on trust at all. Nowadays, you pretty much have to trust the intellectual community in many areas, because to learn one to the point where you could have a dissenting opinion and be taken seriously takes years of training.

    The scientific community advances a piece of rhetoric that maintains it’s a thoroughly democratic institution, and it’s this piece of rhetoric that makes it seem as though their claim to authority is compatible with everyone excercising their own judgement. That, and the injunction to ‘look at the evidence yourself!’, but as you point out, James, people aren’t actually qualified to do that; moreover, they take themselves to be looking at the evidence and coming to a different conclusion.
    And when this happens, we can see that the scientific community isn’t really all that open and undogmatic and chilled as all that. If you decide that evolution isn’t real, then the response from the scientific community isn’t ‘OK, that’s cool’, or, ‘really? OK, come along to vote at the next Community Accepted Truth meeting’ and it certainly isn’t “alright, we’ll include your view in the list of alternatives”. Instead, you’ll either be marginalized and ignored, held up for ridicule, or someone will take it upon themselves to re-educate you.

    In this behaviour, one can see that the scientific community isn’t really all that different from a large religious institution.

    I’m not sure we can have it both ways – both ‘make up your own mind’ and ‘accept what the scientific community tells you’.